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 Research Connections :: University of Rochester

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From left, PhD student YeonKyung Jeong; former PhD student Rabia Malik; and Gretchen Helmke, professor and chair of political science, are collaborating to create an interactive website designed to help social scientists with international field research. (University photo / Sandra Knispel)

Website to help social scientists with field research

In 1997, when Gretchen Helmke first starting conducting field research in Buenos Aires, Argentina, something dawned on her pretty quickly. She wasn’t getting anywhere fast.

As a graduate student with no established reputation in the field and little experience, doors didn’t exactly fly open. Studying one of the most politicized institutions in Argentina—the Argentine Supreme Court— she often didn’t even know which doors to knock on.

She first needed to gain access to the right political networks in order for its key members to help open doors for her, point her in the right directions. Even looking the part became important. Her student outfit—jeans, a backpack, and tennis shoes—“just didn’t cut it.”

Unlike doing research in the Unites States, which generally offers easy access to government data, trying to so the same in developing nations, can prove tricky.

Helmke, professor and chair of political science; her former PhD student Rabia Malik, now a postdoc at New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and current Rochester PhD student YeonKyung Jeong are creating a website that will track social scientists conducting international field work. On a practical level, being able to glean tips from others means not having to constantly reinvent the wheel.

“Especially when it’s your first field research, you have a very limited amount of information about the field country,” explains Jeong. “You have to spend a lot of time and effort learning about the country, which makes your field research inefficient.”

The team recently premiered a beta version of their new website, called In The Field_Political Science, at a conference on the River Campus. Essentially an interactive world map, the website will be searchable by country, city, topic, name of researcher, or institution.

Created with the programming and coding assistance of Nora Dimmock, Blair Tinker, and Josh Romphf of the River Campus Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Lab, the website’s purpose is to foster collaboration among social scientists, make research more efficient, and help advisors plan research trips for graduate students.

The website is in the pilot stage; the researchers and programmers are still fixing glitches, and are looking for more input from colleagues.

Helmke says the plan is to reach out to faculty and graduate students at several universities in order to populate the website before it goes live. “My guess is we would ultimately have something like 500 to 1,000 users in the political science community, which would expand as we extend to other social sciences.”

Helmke, who has done extensive research in Argentina and Ecuador, hopes to find on the website information that would be useful to her in her role as advisor.

“I feel very comfortable sending students to countries I am familiar with in Latin America, but it is challenging to advise students studying in parts of the world where I have few or no contacts,” she says.

Read more here.

University Research Awards span a wide range of topics

This year’s recipients of University Research Awards will bring their expertise to bear on topics as diverse as improving corneal tranplants, creating miniature robotic swimmers and crawlers, understanding the evolution of the earths’ magnetic field, and developing a model to study how communities respond to natural disasters.

The awards, originally called Provost’s Multidisciplinary Awards, are funded $250,000 every year by the president and matched by the schools for a total of $500,000 annually. They are designed to help researchers advance promising lines of research so that they can obtain external funding.

This year’s projects are:

Protection of corneal endothelial cells from surgical trauma
Mark Buckley, assistant professor of biomedical engineering
The most common reason why transplanted corneal grafts fail is loss of corneal endothelial cells, often due to contact with tools and other materials during transplantation. This project will evaluate two approaches to reducing the death of these cells during transplantation: chemical treatment with three agents that interfere with the formation of stress fibers, and maintaining the cornea at cold temperatures.

Macrophage exhaustion as a novel mechanism of resistance to therapeutic mAbs
Michael R. Elliott, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, and Clive S. Zent, professor of hematology/oncology
Unconjugated monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) kill malignant B-lymphocytes, primarily via antibody-dependent phagocytosis (engulfing) of αCD20-bound B cells by macrophages. This has improved therapies for some of the most common cancers, but is not curative. This project will investigate a ‘hypo-phagocytosis’ phase the macrophages enter, characterized by a sharp decline in phagocytic activity that can persist for hours or days and may contribute to reduced efficacy or even resistance to mAb therapies.

New Strategies to Improve Long-Term Survival for Patients with Pancreatic Cancer
Scott A. Gerber, assistant professor of surgery (research); David C. Linehan, professor of surgery oncology, and Haoming (Carl) Qiu, assistant professor of radiation oncology
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma continues to have dismal prognosis, with surgical resection offering the only real potential for cure. However, only 10 to 20 percent of patients are eligible for surgery. This project will examine the use of immunotherapy in conjunction with radiotherapy to shrink the tumor, thereby making patients eligible for surgical removal.

Role of NS1 mutations in interferon responses, inflammation, and pathogenesis induced by seasonal human influenza A viruses
Marta Lopez De Diego and Aitor Nogales Gonzalez, research assistant professors of microbiology and immunology
Influenza A viruses replicate by encoding the non-structural 1 (NS1) protein to counteract innate antiviral responses. Changes in amino acid levels within the NS1 protein are observed in seasonal circulating viruses, impacting the ability of NS1 protein to counteract immune responses. This project will analyze this variability in the current seasonal influenza A H1N1 and H3N2 viruses and the effect of the identified mutations on evading host innate immune responses and in modulating viral pathogenesis.

Inflammatory Protein Translation in Anucleate Platelets
Craig Morrell. associate professor, and Peng Yao, assistant professor, both in the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute
This project will demonstrate that platelets translate new inflammatory and immune modulatory molecules in response to infection, which then alters host immune responses. It will also explore the mechanisms involved in regulating platelet mRNA translation, using a mouse model of experimental cerebral malaria. The investigators have shown that platelets are activated in this model, and initiate or accelerate the innate and acquired immune cell responses associated with the cerebral vascular complications of the infection.

Robotic Physics of Miniature Crawlers, Swimmers, and Burrowers — Non-biological Locomotion Strategies in Complex Media
Alice Quillen, professor of physics and astronomy; Hesam Askari and Jessica Shang, assistant professors of mechanical engineering; and Scott Seidman, associate professor of biomedical engineering
Swarms of small, disposable robotic mechanisms that can traverse granular or soft media or viscous fluids could have a variety of applications, including exploration of hard-to-reach places, targeted delivery, and exploratory sensing. This proposal seeks to spur a multidisciplinary effort to brainstorm new and not necessarily biologically-inspired strategies for low-cost locomotion in complex media such as viscous fluids, granular media, and biofilms, laying the foundation to develop a fledgling miniature robotics physics research and engineering program at the University.

Nanophotonic paleointensity sensor based on single spins
John Tarduno, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, and Nick Vamivakas, associate professor of quantum optics and quantum physics
Knowing when the geodynamo —the Earth’s self-perpetuating intrinsic magnetic field — started is important for understanding the evolution of the core, atmosphere, and life on our planet. This project involves building an imaging magnetometer that uses individual electron spins to measure the local magnetic field of inclusions in zircon crystals from W. Australia that are billions of years old.

Social Vulnerability, Community Resilience, and Disaster Recovery in Ladakh, India: A Model for Global Community Engaged Learning and Research
Stewart Weaver, professor of history; Nancy P. Chin, associate professor of public health sciences; Tatyana Bakhmetyeva, lecturer at the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Stuart Jordan, faculty director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Ladakh, a Himalayan region in northern India, is experiencing at least two types of environmental disasters linked to the rise in global temperatures: glacial recession leading to water scarcity during the planting season, and changing weather patterns leading to cloudbursts and flooding. Using Ladakh as a case study, the long-term goal is to describe and analyze community resilience and disaster recovery socially and historically, but also through the lens of gender analysis. This grant application proposes a study that will collect preliminary socio-cultural data toward designing a long-term community engaged research/learning project on disaster recovery.

PhD dissertation defenses

Bethany Little, Physics, “Dynamic Gratings and Other Applications of Dispersion.” 2 p.m. June 1, 2017. Bausch and Lomb 106. Advisor: John Howell.

Bochen Liu, Mathematics, “Finite Configurations Contained in Subsets of Euclidean Spaces.” Noon, June 2, 2017. Hylan 1106A. Advisor: Alex Iosevich.

Joseph Ciminelli, Statistics, “Mixed-Membership and Spatial Models for Social Network Data.” 9:30 a.m. June 13, 2017. Ryan Case Method Room (1-9576 URMC). Advisor: Tanzy Love.

Laura Yunes-Medina, Neuroscience, “The Role of Transglutaminase 2 in Neuronal Viability.” 11 a.m. June 16, 2017. Auditorium K-207 (2-6408 URMC). Advisor: Gail V. W. Johnson.

Mark your calendar

Today: Neuroscience Retreat, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Art Gallery. Register here.

Today: “Biomimetic and Anti-Fouling Interfaces,” a Frontiers in Materials Science for the 21st Century Symposium, sponsored by the Rochester Advanced Materials Science Program. 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sloan Auditorium, Goergen Hall. More information at the program website.

May 30: Deadline to apply for awards of up to $10,000 from the Center for AIDS Research for collaborative clinical and translational pharmacology proposals involving University of Rochester and University at Buffalo faculty. Click here for the RFA.

June 1: “Excellence Through Equity: Creating Schools that Serve All Children Well,” presented by Pedro Noguera, professor of education at UCLA. Followed by panel discussion. Hosted by Warner School’s Center for Urban Education Success. 6 p.m., Edward J. Cavalier Auditorium at East High School. Free and open to the public. Read more here.

June 12: “So you want to publish? Tips, tools and techniques for identifying and choosing the ‘right’ publication.” 2016-2017 Faculty Development Workshop Series. 4 to 5:30 p.m., CEL 2-7544. Faculty, students, residents, fellows, and staff are welcome to attend. To register, contact Nina Koski.

June 14: First meeting of the Science, Technology, and Culture multidisciplinary reading group, discussing When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir of Paul Kalanithi — a neurosurgeon whose diagnosis with terminal lung cancer at the end of his residency drives him to examine the brain, the mind, and what makes us human.  5 p.m., Humanities Center at Rush Rhees Library. To learn more, email

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections on the Newsletters website.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.